Stuck in a dark frame of mind, I kept thinking about the changes coming for me and other Americans in the years ahead after writing the previous post. So far, how I’ll deal with those changes has been amorphous in my thinking. No one wants to contemplate hard times when the present is already so shaky, and I’m no different. Yet ... yet, am I really being dark, or just pragmatic? It’s time to start thinking about them seriously. It’s time to start getting ready.
As an American, I’ve lived an unbelievably privileged life for almost 51 years. During my childhood and growing up years with my parents, I was never hungry. I never lacked for anything. I went to good schools and had the opportunity to go to college. As an adult, I’ve never been rich, and I’ve lived most of my adult years just barely ahead of the official poverty level. The last ten years were better, as Mr. Wren and I were able to combine our incomes. Still, even when it was the toughest I was able to keep a house over my own and my family’s head, keep us clothed, maintain a car, and keep us well-fed. We never, ever went hungry, as is evidenced by my current fight to shed the too many pounds I carry on my short frame.
At the moment, we’re still OK. We’re making our house payment, and the electricity, propane and water bills get paid each month. We’ve already got our wood for the winter woodstove. The garbage and recycling are picked up at the curb, and we have far more recycling than actual garbage in the bins. We’re still eating well – probably better than we ever have, since we eat very little processed food now. My grocery bills, though, remain about as expensive as ever, even buying mostly fresh vegetables and meat, dried beans and rice. The price of food in general has gone up a lot, so I need to look at what I’m buying even more closely. I can’t imagine anymore stocking my shelves with junk food and Hamburger Helper. I can’t afford it. We rarely eat out.
And yet we still live far better and with far more comfort than most people in the world, and than many people in America.
I can still buy a tank of gas for my car, though it makes me wince every time I do. I’m glad I no longer have that 50-mile commute each day to work and back again. Increasingly it becomes clear that when I do finally find a job, it won’t be down in the city, but much closer to home. It will have to be. That means I won’t make the same salary as I did before, which is disturbing, as it wasn’t much even then.
So we’ll have to learn to make better use of what we have. I mentioned our cottage garden in the previous post. This summer we didn’t get much produce from it. I didn’t work out there among the plants at all, and Mr. Wren wasn’t able to do very much himself, even though he loves it. Next season, I’ll have to, which means I need to get out there and start preparing the gardens for a new “crop” now. We’ll have to be smart about what we plant, and even smarter about what we do with the harvest next fall. I’ll need to learn some new skills, like canning and dehydrating, and be serious about using them. I’ll have to pay attention to my neighbors, several of whom are quite elderly, or who are young and have growing children. They may need some help.
We have five chickens, all hens. They produce many more big, delicious, brown-shelled eggs than the two of us can eat, so the extra dozen or two they lay each week through the spring and summer we’ve given away to friends and family. The Girls will still produce eggs, even this winter, though only few during the darkest months. Our hens are three years old now, and won’t be producing at this level forever. So I think we may need to consider getting a rooster and allowing a few of the eggs to hatch, so we’ll have more hens. We’ll have to give them more space for laying and for raising chicks. We may need the eggs, and the meat, before long. And I’ll have to grow a spine when it comes to facing down that cantankerous, shin-pecking rooster.
I need to learn to bake bread, and how to make stock out of chicken bones and vegetables rather than opening a convenient can of broth. It’s possible that my daughter and her partner will need to live with us again so we can all pool our meager resources. We’ll need to give up some luxuries. Some of those I can hardly bear to lose – my Internet connection, for one, and Mr. Wren’s cable TV for another. We’ll have to conserve even more than we do now, tighten our belts a few more notches and narrow our world a lot.
My current quest for physical fitness and weight loss has more behind it than mere vanity. Looking good is nice – who wouldn’t like to have a slim, strong body – but there’s more to my thinking than that. I’m going to need to be as fit and strong as I can be as I go into my 51st year. I need to gird my loins. My daily life is going to be more strenuous. And my personal health will have to be as good as I can manage, since the chances of finding a local job that can provide me with co-paid health insurance is just about nil. I have no hope that our government will change that anytime soon.
We’ll probably have to try to sell a lot of “things” we don’t need. We’ll need to trim our lives, cut out the fat. We’ll have to find cheap ways to entertain ourselves. Fortunately, Mr. Wren has always loved cards and board games, and we have a closetful. And I have shelves and shelves of books, old and new, many of which I haven’t read yet. We’ve plenty of ways to have fun once the TV is gone.
And finally, though this may need to come sooner than later, we’ll need to become an active part of our community. In the years before now, we both worked a long commute from home, so we’ve never gotten to know most of our neighbors beyond the nodding point. But I think our community, our little town, is going to have to pull together if we’re all to survive the looming hard times. In the old days, people knew each other; they helped each other. It wasn’t necessarily because they liked each other, but it was necessary for survival. These are relatively new skills for me, and I suspect for most Americans who’ve spent their lives living in suburbia. We haven’t need to know our neighbors well. We had our jobs, our TVs, and our TV dinners, and it seemed like enough.
In many ways these changes aren’t all bad. Americans can use a little more community and a little more compassion for their neighbors. We can stand to drop our selfishness, and open our kitchens to friends who need a hot bowl of soup and kindness. We can share more. We’ll be better people for it. But we’d better not wait long to get started. Change is on the wind, coming whether we’re prepared or not.